Saturday, December 10, 2022

Chance and necessity revisited

Jacques Monod viewed molecular biology as justification for a mechanistic and deterministic view of life, which he elucidated in his best seller Chance and necessity. The book influenced me when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge University doing Part I Medical Sciences in 1970-2. It was only when I switched to Religious Studies for my Part II that I realised that a reductionist and positivistic view of science was at least open to question.

Monod argued that living beings are chemical and self-constructing machines. He acknowledged that “our understanding of the mechanisms of development is still very imperfect” (p. 52). Nonetheless he was clear that the “process of spontaneous and autonomous morphogenetic is based on stereospecific recognition properties of proteins”. I’m sure it is, but the question is whether proteins “animate and build living systems (p.52)”? Contra Monod,  I’ve come to accept Kant’s view that life cannot be explained in mechanical terms (eg. see post on my Relational Psychiatry blog).

Even though the scientific and professional establishment tend to agree with Monod, it’s not just the human sciences, but also biology, that need to be anti-reductionist (see eg. another post from my Relational Psychiatry blog). The implication for psychiatry (see my Relational Psychiatry blog passim) and for medicine in general, is that it is not person-centred enough.

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